The government is ordering a temporary moratorium on forestry concessions until concessionaires have conducted full inventories and Environmental Socioeconomic Impact Assessments of their concessions, said Ty Sokhun, director of the Forestry Department.
The action continues a history of troubled dealings between the government and the logging industry. In May 2000, the industry avoided a moratorium by agreeing to reduce harvesting by 50 percent.
But in June 2001, a series of recommendations to the government from international donors suggested that they “place a moratorium on logging until the new concession contracts are signed and the new management plans are in place.”
Although some concessionaires have already begun work on the management plans, no concessionaire will be allowed to continue operations until it has submitted all of its reports to the government for evaluation, Ty Sokhun said.
“If the concessions’ [reports] do not comply with government standards, they will be canceled,” he said.
Henry Kong, manager of Samling logging company and chairman of the Cambodian Timber Industry Association, said he had heard of the moratorium plan “through the grapevine” but had not received an official announcement from the government.
He said if the moratorium was made official, logging companies would “try everything to fight it. Our goal is to have the deadline extended until June.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen, speaking Tuesday at a forum on administrative reform, said there is a worldwide timber glut and that a slowing market might necessitate scaling back Cambodia’s lumber industry.
He said he would push provincial officials to watch logging companies more closely to ensure they are following government regulations.
“[Logging] companies will benefit from better management because there will be more lumber to cut,” Hun Sen said.
“The biggest mistake I made in the 1990s is that I did not watch logging close enough and in that time millions of square meters of lumber were destroyed or cut. I will not make that mistake again.”
According to a May 2001 report issued by the environmental watchdog Global Witness, “there are certain measures that, given the political will, could be put in place relatively simply and would have a dramatic effect on the [Cambodian logging] industry.”
Eva Galabru, co-director of Global Witness, said it was too early to tell whether a temporary moratorium on logging would be successful.
“The government has recently been playing their cards quite close to their chests, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)